By Marc Glassman
Mulroney, the Opera
Larry Weinstein, director
Dan Redican, libretto and script; Alexina Louie, composer
Starring: Rick Miller (Brian Mulroney), Stephanie Mills (Mila), Colin Mochrie (Jean Chretien), Wayne Best (Trudeau), Ted Dykstra (Ed Broadbent), Joe Matheson (Ronald Reagan), Sean Cullen (Robert Coates). Singers include: Daniel Okulitch, Zorana Sadiq, Jay Katz, Patricia O’Callaghan
The creative, and highly honoured, triumvirate of composer Alexina Louie, comic writer Dan Redican and director Larry Weinstein are bound to create a stir with their new production, Mulroney, the Opera. The trio, who have previously worked together on the award-winning short Toothpaste and the “hour-long TV special” pastiche on romance Burnt Toast, may have found the perfect subject for their first full-length opera in the 18th Prime Minister of Canada.
Brian Mulroney always seemed like an operatic character. As a public figure, he projected an image that was–confusingly– charismatic, cartoonish (he always resembled the animation character Dudley Do-Right), old Irish-Canadian politically savvy, abrasively defensive and curiously idealistic. In other words, Mulroney was a man of contradictions and always fascinating.
Redican and Louie have been working together since they first met at a Tapestry workshop in 2004. His humour grounds Louie’s fantastical nature, challenging her to compose music that fits a narrative sensibility. The abstract art that she pursues with her partner Alex Pauk, conductor of Esprit Orchestra, is transformed when she works with Redican.
Louie’s music for Mulroney is closer to cabaret or an operetta than to a full-scale operatic production. She works so hard to illustrate Redican’s words that Louie ends up using blues, ballads and Broadway style choruses in a large portion of her score. While her willingness to be a good collaborator is admirable, one wonders if Mulroney might have been helped had she treated it more closely like an opera.
Louie’s ambiguous treatment is mirrored in Redican’s and Weinstein’s gingerly approach to the story line. Is Mulroney meant to be a figure of scorn? Or is he a comic character, a buffoon?
It’s never obvious whether Mulroney, the Opera is a comic romp or a whole-hearted satire. There’s a cheerful quality to the production that belies any attempt to be deeply sardonic towards the Mulroney government. And yet, Mulroney is treated so comically–so disparagingly—that it seems clear that a full-on satire might emerge at any moment.
In the end, Redican tries for both the comic romp and angry, satirical approach. He creates a character, “the fictional historian”, who critiques the film whenever it departs from the facts of the situation. It’s as if Redican wanted to go further with his portrayal of Mulroney but held back.
Mulroney, the Opera is a funny take on one of Canada’s most influential politicians. Given the talents of Louie, Redican and Weinstein, it could have been devastating–but it’s certainly worth seeing.